Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wait on the Lord--Acts 1

“Patience is a virture. Possess it if you can.
It’s seldom found in women, and never found in a man.”

I learned that little rhyme in 8th grade. I can’t remember what it came from, but it was in some piece of literature. It’s not quite true, but it IS hard to be patient. Americans don’t like to wait. We search for the shortest line in the grocery store. We complain that fast food isn’t fast enough. We instant message because email takes to long. We text because it takes too long to write out whole sentences. We speed because 55 is too slow.
I hate the time it takes for my computer to boot up. I think it’s too slow. I can scrub half a bathroom while I’m waiting. I can’t stand to watch regular tv anymore because I’ve gone so long without it. I hate having to put up with commercials. It’s hard to be patient. This impatience has contributed to our sense of entitlement. Delayed gratification means little in today’s American life. This is part of what fueled our recent economic troubles. Everyone was buying on credit, because we want it now. We don’t want to save up until we actually have enough money to buy what we want because the reality is, we might never save up! But the fake money comes to an end at some point, as we have seen.
We aren’t the only ones who have difficulty waiting. It seems the disciples were too. From the Ascension to Pentecost was just 10 days, but the disciples were impatient. Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they had been clothed with power from on high, until they received the promise Holy Spirit. They did well at first. They went back to Jerusalem. They devoted themselves to prayer, because waiting doesn’t mean doing nothing. To wait upon the Lord is to continue in what He has shown you until He shows you something different.
But Peter starts to get antsy. Judas has committed suicide, and Peter thinks it’s time that Judas was replaced. He uses Scripture to justify his opinion. He suggests 2 very capable, well-qualified men to take Judas’s place. Both of these men, Joseph Barsabbas, aka Justus, and Matthias had been with Jesus and the apostles from the time that Jesus was baptized by John and even witnessed the ascension. They were probably among the 70 that had been sent out. They were faithful. Then it says that the gathered believers, 120 minus the women, because Peter only addresses the men at this point, prayed that the Lord would show them which of these men was to be ordained apostle. This prayer seems rather perfunctory. Again it’s something we’re guilty of. We have a session meeting today. The Book of Order says that every session meeting is to begin and end with prayer, as well they should. But too often prayer becomes an agenda item to check off instead of a time to really listen and align ourselves with the Holy Spirit. Or grace before meals. It can become the same kind of thing, or the Lord’s prayer, or bedtime prayers. Paul, however, will reinforce later in I Corinthians chapter 2 that wisdom comes not through persuasion but from the Spirit and that one receives that wisdom of the Holy Spirit as one waits upon the Lord. In verse I Cor. 2:9 Paul quotes Isaiah 64:4, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard and have not entered into the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” Isaiah originally said, “For from of old they have not heard nor perceived by ear; neither has the eye seen a God besides You, who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.” Paul uses the strongest verb for love—agapao—that unconditional, God-given love, and equates it with waiting on God or longing for God. Now it’s not like the disciples didn’t love God, nor that we don’t love God when we are impatient, but we show our deepest love for God when we wait for His wisdom and direction.
Now I know Scripture is abbreviated. Luke can’t give us every detail of every thing that happened. He doesn’t say if they waited hours or days for the Lord’s answer. Regardless of how long they waited, it wasn’t the duration that Jesus had commanded. They had not yet been filled with the Holy Spirit. Does it mean that they didn’t wait long enough to receive an answer from the Spirit? I don’t know. Certainly the Holy Spirit has been at work all along. The Spirit worked all through the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. The Spirit was in the business of endowing wisdom long before Pentecost, so maybe they did really receive the Spirit’s answer.
And to receive that answer, they cast lots to see which one was God’s pick. Notice that they didn’t hold an election and vote. They really wanted to know the Lord’s will. They appealed to Jesus who knows all men’s hearts. But again, they asked God to bless their actions instead of waiting on God’s timing. And again, it’s something we too are guilty of. “God, show me what you want me to do,” and then go through our own forms of divination—lists, charts, coin flipping, getting our friends opinions, etc. To the apostles’ credit, casting lots was sanctioned by the rabbis as a legitimate form of decision making. It was used by the priests beginning all the way back with Aaron. In Leviticus 16 when God gives the process for observing the Day of Atonement, God says, “Aaron shall take 2 goats and set them before Yahweh at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and Aaron shall cast lots on the two goats—one lot for Yahweh, and the other for Azael or the scapegoat,” which would be sent out into the wilderness.
These are God’s words. He told Aaron to cast lots. It seems like the apostles did the right thing after all. Yet, this is the last time that decisions were made by casting lots by the apostles. This type of activity isn’t recorded in Scripture beyond this incident. The apostles aren’t doing anything obviously wrong or sinful. In the same way, the things we do seem right when we have to make a choice. Sometimes our friends advice can help us see things from a new perspective. Sometimes lists and charts help us to organize our thoughts. But sometimes, God just wants us to wait. Luke himself in recording this incident makes no judgment as to whether or not these were appropriate or inappropriate actions.
Although Jesus personally chooses Saul to be an apostle, Paul never counts himself as one of the twelve; rather Paul compares himself with the twelve. And Paul is clear about his own calling, which was apostle to the Gentiles. And once James, son of Zebedee, one of the inner 3, brother of John, and the first of the 12 to be martyred dies, he is not replaced. James, brother of our Lord, becomes the head of the church at Jerusalem, but he is not considered as being on of the 12. Matthias is never again mentioned by name in Scripture. However, according to the early church father Clement of Alexandria, Matthias went on to serve Christ and teach as an apostle. Whether or not Matthias was rightly ordained apostle by men, he was a follower of Jesus and God used Matthias and served through Matthias, just as God does with anyone who surrenders to Him. And he was indeed counted an apostle. Look at Acts 2:14, “Peter, standing up with the eleven.” Matthias is counted as one of the 11. He too is filled with Spirit on Pentecost and speaks in tongues. Acts 6:2, again this is before Saul’s conversion, “The 12 called together the whole community to elect deacons.” Matthias is considered one of the 12. Perhaps his is one of the names on the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem. There were far more than 12 apostles in all, but clearly he is considered one of the 12 by the early Christians. Did Peter and the apostles rightly go about filling Judas’s slot or not? Our text doesn’t say or even imply one way or the other. That which seems to be impatience may not have been. We do know that God blessed it anyway, and that God’s will was ultimately accomplished. In reality this text really says more about God’s grace and mercy than about right and wrong ways to make decisions. Remember that this is the Lord who knows the hearts of all people.
In the same way, God is gracious enough to work through even our hastily, impatiently made decisions, working all things out for good—that good being conforming us to Christ. God blesses our perfunctory prayers. God works through our charts, friends, and even coin flips. God is the knower of our hearts as well. One of my favorite songs by Christopher Williams is called “Never Wrong.” Christopher uses the metaphor and imagery of being lost on a dark, back road, trying to get home with people telling him go this way, no go that way. The chorus says, “Am I lost soul? Do You watch me where I go? Is there something I don’t know? Am I right where I belong? Maybe these mistakes are never wrong!” He comes to the realization that he’s really not in control anyway, and if he surrenders the control he thinks he has, then it’s “never wrong”. He says in the bridge, “I’d rather not know where I’m going, and trust that You will show the way.” Seek the Spirit’s wisdom, and wait upon the Lord, and you will never be wrong.

Question: Do you think the disciples were right in choosing Matthias? Does being “right” matter?

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